Everyday Care

What Those Aches and Pains Really Mean

Pain in any form is, well, a pain.

Whether you’ve twisted your ankle working out or are dealing with a more long-lasting type of pain, anything that keeps you from doing the things you enjoy takes a big toll on your life, both physically and mentally. Yet pain is a very present part of our lives. According to estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, roughly 10% of U.S. adults have used pain medication in the past 30 days. Some pain may dissipate on its own, but some may require attention from a clinician. So how do you know when to manage pain on your own or get medical attention? Use this guide to understand your pain and find the best treatment to get you back to your routine.

What does your pain feel like?

Pain can feel differently depending on the person and their level of pain tolerance. However, there are some important distinctions to make when it comes to pain.

  1. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is pain that is primarily muscle soreness and aching, particularly a day or two after a workout. According to research published in the journal Sports Medicine, DOMS can reduce joint motion, putting stress on other areas of the body that aren’t equipped to handle it, increasing pain or causing additional injury. This is why rest is an important part of pain management. This type of pain is unpleasant, but you should still be able to carry out daily responsibilities. You’re also aware of why it’s happening—there’s an injury or cause behind the pain, and in a day or two, the discomfort should subside.
  2. Chronic pain is pain that does not ease up so quickly. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine,  chronic pain is pain that has lasted longer than a recovery period, even if it comes and goes. The pain is so uncomfortable you’re often unable to work, socialize, exercise, or complete regular activities and tasks.

How long have you been in pain?

Per research published in the journal Pain, a pain that lasts three to six months (even if not continuous) is considered chronic pain. Approximately 20% of people worldwide deal with chronic pain, and the issue accounts for 15% to 20% of physician visits. If you find your pain is not improving over time, it’s important to speak to a clinician to discuss your symptoms and figure out the cause. That’s not to say you must wait three to six months to speak to a clinician. Any pain at any time warrants medical attention. Log on to the app and let us know what’s bothering you. We can help with relief, remedies, and next steps if needed.

Do I need to speak to a professional?

You know you’re in pain, but you’re unsure if it warrants chatting with a clinician. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), some red flags that your pain needs medical attention, no matter the timeline, include:

  • Pain accompanied by redness or swelling
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling
  • Unexplained weight loss with pain
  • Constant, non-stop pain

Remember: It’s important to go to a clinician when you’re feeling well, so that they have a baseline on your health. That way, when pain does pop up, they’ll be able to quickly determine why and how to treat it.

How does pain get diagnosed?

Depending on your type of pain (i.e., Where does it hurt? Did it happen because of an injury or just appear?) there are several tests a clinician may do. According to Weill Cornell Medicine, some diagnostic tests may include:

  • An X-ray to show trauma or injury
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the spine for any damage
  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan to create a 3D image of the spine to locate any nerve pinching or compression
  • An electromyogram (EMG), during which fine needle are inserted into the muscles to measure response to electrical signals
  • A myelogram, a test that inserts dye into the spinal canal to look for compression points
  • Blood and/or urine tests to rule out pain caused by infection

How can you treat your pain?

Pain treatment is an ever-evolving field, with new remedies developed and tested constantly. Per guidelines published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine, based on your pain diagnosis a clinician may recommend one or several of the following measures:

  • Over the counter (OTC) medication such as a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or prescription medication, based on symptom severity
  • Physical therapy to improve mobility and function
  • Lifestyle changes, such as starting a healthy diet and exercise routine
  • Acupuncture or acupressure

Additional options can include:

  • Mindfulness or meditation. Research published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences states it can help self-regulate and lessen pain symptoms.
  • Cortisone shots, which are injected into inflamed tendons, joints, or tissues to help relieve pain, per Harvard Health.

How can you treat pain at home?

For acute pain that isn’t stemming from a serious injury, trauma, or infection, there are ways you can relieve symptoms without a trip to the pharmacy. The most popular form of DIY treatment is known as RICE, and according to the AAFP it stands for:

  • Rest the muscle or area in pain
  • Ice the affected area to reduce swelling (aim for 15 minutes every few hours)
  • Compress the injury with an elastic medical bandage
  • Elevate the injury above heart level whenever possible

OTC medication is often used with PRICE to speed up symptom relief as well. Have questions about a specific type of pain you're experiencing? Our first tip: don't turn to the internet. Chat with a nurse for free instead. Open the app and let us know how you’re doing, and we’ll work to develop a customized care plan to rid your pain for good.  

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